## Outrage over Udacity Statistics 101: But is it really worse than others?

AngryMath’s blog post on Udacity Statistics 101 (linked below) is detailed, compelling, and damning.  It’s certainly not the best statistics course anywhere.  But I have to wonder: Is it worse than average?  It’s hard to teach statistics well (I really did try this last summer).  It’s hard to teach anything well, and there’s evidence that we need to improve our teaching in computer science.  This doesn’t feel like an indictment of MOOC courses overall.

In brief, here is my overall assessment: the course is amazingly, shockingly awful. It is poorly structured; it evidences an almost complete lack of planning for the lectures; it routinely fails to properly define or use standard terms or notation; it necessitates occasional massive gaps where “magic” happens; and it results in nonstandard computations that would not be accepted in normal statistical work. In surveying the course, some nights I personally got seriously depressed at the notion that this might be standard fare for the college lectures encountered by most students during their academic careers.

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• 1. Don Davis (@gnu_don)  |  September 19, 2012 at 9:58 am

Quite often we assume that higher test scores are the result of better teaching. Sure, why not? If we improve teaching, test scores go up, so higher test scores mean better teaching, right? I.e. if we did a complete swap of teachers in schools with poor passing numbers and schools with exemplary passing numbers – the low passing schools should suddenly exceed 90%. Who believes that?

I’ve been a student and observed teaching in various higher ed and K12 institutions. Some Tier I, some not. I was not overwhelmed by the sheer dazzling pedagogy of celebrated schools – quite the contrary. It seems often students learn in spite of the teachers not because of them – yet because the school is recognized the teachers/parents/administrators have a warm self-satisfied smug glow of “our pedagogy must be better than yours” – which is an unfortunate, undeserved slight of teachers who work with struggling students.

Reading the comments on Udacity – I thought the author was spot on. This may reflect his experience working at a community college. I have no data to reflect this – though I have noted similar parallels in K12. This is also pointed out by Varma (2008) who notes that the concerns of the typical CS student are a bit divergent from those of the middle-class white females Margolis & Fisher (2003) observed.

• 2. thinkingwiththings  |  September 19, 2012 at 11:29 am

As a survivor of not one but several statistics courses in grad school (I kept taking them, thinking I might finally understand) I realize that one huge opportunity that *open source* MOOCs present is the possibility of crowd-sourcing great curriculum. It’s not wikipedia–you can’t have folks changing what’s posted a will–but MOOCs make the curriculum and teaching methods visible in a way we can all critique and help to improve. This can raise the bar for all statistics courses.

Online resources can never substitute for the face to face time I have with my students, but they can help me use that time far more effectively. I’d welcome great resources to which I can direct my students for outside-of-class learning, enabling me to “flip” my classroom and have class time devoted to coaching, problem solving, and group project based learning.

• 3. Doug Holton  |  September 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I agree with thinkingthings. I think Lee Shulman and the Carnegie Foundation used to talk about the ‘Teaching Commons’ – the first step to improving teaching is to share it with one another – talk about it, so that it can be inspected and one can get feedback and improve upon it.

Hopefully these MOOCs are at the very least setting a baseline, and future courses will start to get even better. Because if you did offer a future MOOC statistics course and it was worse than an existing open one, students would just go over to the old one and learn from it, I’d assume. (however, these MOOCs are still synchronous and ‘over’ when they are over – they aren’t asynchronous and more standalone like OLI’s well-researched statistics course: http://oli.cmu.edu/courses/free-open/statistics-course-details/ )

• 4. Lots of room for improvement | Online Class Trends  |  September 30, 2012 at 8:38 pm

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• 5. onlineclasstrends  |  September 30, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Cross-posted on my blog…

This discussion about Udacity’s Statistics 101 class suggests to me that it may not be the highest quality course. So far, the big MOOCs (Udacity, Coursera, edX, etc.) have been cherry-picking their educators from the pool of professors at big-name universities. But, the problems with this course show that, even with all of that going for these MOOCs, there is still room for competition from other educators on these topics.